The folks in the legal department at Exelon Corp. know a thing or two about pro bono work. Since the early 1990s, the company has had in place an informal pro bono program. But in 2002, the general counsel recognized the team’s—lawyers and paralegals alike—interest in pro bono work and decided to implement an official initiative.
The program, which is administered by two pro bono coordinators (one in Chicago and one in Philadelphia), offers up the standard corporate pro bono guidelines. But it also has a unique element—it allows participants to credit 50 billable hours a year toward pro bono work (because Exelon is a regulated company, lawyers bill their time similarly to law firms). According to Kevin Stepanuk, associate general counsel and co-chair of the pro bono initiative, this helps attract even more interest to the program.
As co-chair, Stepanuk helps identify law clinics that would be appropriate for in-house counsel. Each year, the department organizes four company-sponsored pro bono events and encourages the team to participate. These clinics include work such as helping the homeless obtain birth certificates, teaching middle and high-school students about working in law and assisting the elderly with end-of-life documents.
For most of these projects, Exelon’s legal department partners with a law firm or non-profit organization. “We think it is critical to have that additional support—almost every one of our events is in partnership with law firms or one of the non-profits,” Stepanuk says.
Its longest-running partnership has been with Ballard Spahr on the Wills for Heroes program, where attorneys help veterans create wills. “It provides peace of mind to men and women who risk their lives every day to keep us all safe,” says Mary Gay Scanlon, executive director, Pro Bono Program, at Ballard Spahr. “This program provides a textbook demonstration of how law firms and in-house counsel can successfully team up to leverage each organization’s strengths and expand access to much-needed legal services.”
Over the years, Exelon’s legal department has received various awards and accolades for its pro bono work from organizations such as the Association of Corporate Counsel, the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation and the American Bar Association. Stepanuk credits Exelon General Counsel Darryl Bradford and other members of the Exelon executive management team for the program’s success because without support from the top, he says, it would be impossible.
But Stepanuk also believes that it simply makes Exelon a better company. “You attract a certain type of lawyer when you have a pro bono program,” he says. “Some very talented lawyers are interested in Exelon because they know we offer pro bono opportunities.”